International Tour Management Institute (ITMI)

The Premier Training Institute for Tour & Travel Professionals Since 1976

Making the World a Better Place Through Travel


Larry Bell

Hometown: Holladay, Utah

ITMI graduation year: 1996

Travel bucket list: Bali, Singapore, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Peru. Wisconsin

Tour essentials: a computer, a sense of humor, and a change of underwear

The earth is a much smaller planet now. Stereotypes that I carried for years have been modified and I find that the cultural differences upon which stereotypes are based are what make tour directing, and travel in general, both interesting and exciting. As Mark Twain said, ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness.’
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What or who inspired you to become a tour director?

I was fortunate. My Air Force career opened the world of travel for me. Many of my assignments allowed me to travel to foreign countries in the world, observing different cultures and meeting very interesting people. Perhaps it was this opportunity to travel that eventually led me to tour directing--it seemed like a natural follow-on career. After graduating with the degree in Middle East Area Studies, I spent four years as a current intelligence analyst in the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Pentagon. During this period, one of the highlights was being asked to travel to Cairo, Egypt, and personally brief Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak on a sensitive situation unfolding in the region. During the Vietnam War, I had the opportunity to visit several countries in Asia, and later, as Africa Branch Chief on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I traveled extensively in Africa including countries like Yemen, Oman, Somalia, Chad, Zaire, Cameroon, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Algeria.

Included in my Air Force career were opportunities to serve in two diplomatically accredited assignments at U.S Embassies in Rabat, Morocco and Paris, France. In Morocco, I directed the Morocco/U.S. Liaison Office, providing security assistance to the Moroccan Government and Military. The highlight of this posting was being invited to have dinner with King Hassan II at his palace in Fes, Morocco, (along with 30 other men including former Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger). My last assignment in the Air Force was as Air/Defense Attache at the embassy in Paris. For three years I was the senior U.S. military officer in France, representing the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Intelligence Agency to the French Government and French Defense Ministry. 

My background and past experience have developed in me a passion for travel and a desire to share new adventures and new discoveries with others.

How do you balance your personal life with your travel career?

Fortunately, balancing my personal life with my travel career has not been a problem. My wife and four daughters are all avid travelers. Perhaps that stems from following me around the world for 30 years in the Air Force. In addition to several moves in the United States, we spent two years on Guam, two years in Morocco and three years in France. My family adapted very quickly to each move, and it was always exciting to anticipate where we might be going next. Now, they are all very comfortable traveling and look for opportunities to be somewhere else. The whole family speaks French and all feel at ease in international settings. 

Often, when I am tour directing in England, France or Italy and have ten days or two weeks off between tours, rather than flying home, I will fly my wife to Europe and we spend time making our own discoveries. This way she feels part of the touring business and the separations are not so long.

What qualities do you feel make for a good tour director?

  1. Passion for travel and ability to share that passion
  2. Love being around people
  3. A good observer
  4. Well organized
  5. Desire to teach
  6. Unflappable
  7. Good sense of humor
  8. A child-like excitement in new discoveries

What advice would you give to a first-time traveler?

  1. Travel with an open mind and a desire to experience new cultures, new food, and different ways of thinking. 
  2. Prepare yourself for new discoveries by doing your own research on areas you will be visiting.
  3. Try to absorb the sights, sounds, and smells of new places.
  4. Keep a travel journal.

What destinations are on your travel bucket list?

  1. Australia/New Zealand
  2. Bali
  3. Singapore
  4. British/Zulu battlefields in South Africa
  5. Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, Patagonia
  6. Tahiti
  7. Wisconsin (the only state I haven’t visited) 

What are three things you must always take with you?

  1. Computer
  2. Sense of adventure
  3. Change of underwear

If you could design your own customized tour to reflect your passions, what would it look like?

All tours I design are a reflection of my passions. I thoroughly enjoy tours that capture all my senses and provide a feeling of historical time and place. An example of one of my own tours would be A Taste of Northern California:  (See below)

Day 1

Arrivals from SFO.  Welcome Reception in the evening.

Day 2

  • Guided city tour ending at Golden Gate Park with a tour of the De Young Museum and the California Academy of Science.
  • Return to hotel with time to relax.
  • Depart for very short boat trip to Forbes Island for dinner at the Forbes Island Restaurant.

Day 3

  • Visit Maritime Museum
  • Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building
  • Lunch in Chinatown
  • Matinee performance in theater district
  • Dinner at leisure

Day 4

  • Attend Sausalito Art and Wine Festival. Lunch at leisure.
  • Walking tour of Muir Woods
  • Depart for Sonoma Mission Inn for three-night stay
  • Wine tasting in lobby of hotel
  • Included dinner at leisure in hotel

Day 5

  • Guided walking tour of Sonoma by local historian
  • Arrive at Ramekins Culinary Institute for wine tasting, cooking class/demonstration and lunch
  • Return to hotel for leisure time, spa or golf
  • Dinner at leisure

Day 6

  • Wine tasting tour at Napa Valley wineries
  • Lunch in Napa
  • Return to hotel for nap, pool, spa etc.
  • Depart for dinner on the Napa Valley Wine Train

Day 7

  • Depart for Monterey for visit at Aquarium and lunch
  • Take 17 mile drive
  • Arrive in Carmel for overnight
  • Farewell Reception and Dinner

Day 8

  • Early departure for airport for flights home or post-stay hotel
  • Various flights home

Name someone famous you’d like to travel with and where you’d like to take them.

I would like to take Diane Sawyer on a tour of Morocco. It is exotic with a colorful history, an old culture and a general friendliness toward Americans. We would visit Casablanca, Rabat, Fes, Meknes and Marrakech. 

Because of the world situation, many—maybe most—Americans equate “Arab” and “Muslim” with hatred of Jews, terrorism and anti-Christianity. It is important that Americans realize that that stereotype does not work in Morocco. Morocco is the oldest friend of the United States. It was the first country in the world to recognize our independence from Great Britain. A treaty of friendship between the United States and Morocco was signed in 1787 between Sultan Muhammad III and Thomas Jefferson. It still remains the longest unbroken treaty in United States history having withstood the test of time for over two hundred years.

In 1492, both Arabs and Jews were kicked out of Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella. And where did they go (?)—Morocco. For centuries, Jews and Arabs lived in harmony in Morocco and, even now, there are more Jews in Morocco than any other Arab country, several serving in the Moroccan government.

Perhaps Diane Sawyer would host a special on Morocco after her return from our tour, highlighting the differences in attitude and tolerance she found between the Moroccans she meets and some of their cousins further to the east.

How has tour directing impacted your perspective of the world?

The earth is a much smaller planet now. Stereotypes that I carried for years have been modified and I find that the cultural differences upon which stereotypes are based are what make tour directing, and travel in general, both interesting and exciting. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness.”

Prior to visiting Slovenia, I pictured the country as depressed, gray, dour and backward—a product of years behind the Iron Curtain. I couldn’t have been more wrong.  What a beautiful country with wooded hills, sparkling lakes, clean modern cities and friendly people. 

I find that people around the world have pretty much the same concerns, needs and desires as we do. They take pride in their families and work and want to see their children succeed in life. If it were up to most ordinary people, the world would be a peaceful place to live.    

What advice would you give someone if they wanted to become a tour director or guide?

Someone once said, “If you’re looking for a career, pick something you’re passionate about and then figure out how to make money doing it.”  That’s certainly true of tour directing.  There are many ways of making money in tour directing and travel—more than just guiding guests on a tour.  If you’re going into the tour and travel business it is smart to keep your options open:  Try local step-on guiding, event management, cruise hosting and volunteer docent work in addition to over-the-road tour directing.  Realize that you will probably not become rich tour directing (unless you start your own very successful tour company), but that there are other benefits not related to cash.

Tour guests have asked me why I am directing tours after a successful career as an Air Force officer.  I tell them, “With the company I work for, I stay in five-star hotels, eat in very nice restaurants, meet interesting people from around the world, view magnificent works of art, marvel at ancient architecture, travel to exciting countries—and somebody pays me to do it.  I am doing now what many people save for in their working years and wait until retirement to accomplish.”        

Do you agree that a tour director is actually an ambassador of goodwill? If so, why?

Absolutely! There are many sides to tour directing and all of them require diplomatic skills and finesse from time to time. You are the face of the company to the guests, to the vendors and to the public. In international settings you and the group are also representatives of the United States. In each of these relationships your job is to promote goodwill and understanding between these different groups.

The commentary you provide your guests about various venues, countries and cultures should be positive and uplifting and enhance their experience.  Their understanding of what you say will be reflected in their attitude toward local guides, hotel staff, restaurant staff, coach drivers and local citizens.